Recently, WSJ's Tripti Lahiri has blogged a couple of times on the legal status of the slaughter and consumption of beef in India. Apparently, the law directing states to protect the cow was (perhaps seemingly) enacted to organise agriculture and agriculture on modern and scientific lines.
In recent years, several Indian states have, well, beefed up their cow protection laws. The southern state of Karnataka, led by a government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, passed a cow slaughter ban in 2010; it still has to tweak the law in order to get presidential assent. In January, meanwhile, the President gave her assent to a Madhya Pradesh amendment that increased jail time for those found guilty of cow slaughter. In Gujarat, which will hold state assembly elections by the end of this year, a law that increased jail time for killing a cow, or even transporting a cow to the slaughter, from six months to seven years went into effect in October.
The laws are now being enforced and revised on religious grounds with levels of strictness and interpretation differing from state to state. They however, do not protect the water buffalo which is often served as beef in many restaurants to get around such restrictions. If you allow for buffalo to be marketed as beef, India becomes the world's largest exporter of the latter.
But the two dozen local laws enacted to protect cows across India – in which the age, gender and even geographic origin of the animal all come into play – do make it pretty difficult for restaurants to legally source, store or serve beef.
“I still haven’t been able to figure out what is what myself even after three years of running a restaurant,” said Satish Warier, of the Delhi-based restaurant Gunpowder, which serves dishes typical of several southern Indian states, including Kerala, where beef is commonly served. At Gunpowder, those dishes are served with buffalo meat instead, as a nod to Hindu sentiment, which particularly in the north of the country frowns on eating beef from cows.
The article in the constitution looking to prohibit the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle can be located here [PDF].